There were moments in New York when it must have seemed to Geno Smith that he had been hit by one sucker punch after another, the worst one in his own locker room from a teammate named IK Enemkpali that left him with a broken jaw and a broken Jets career.
He had fallen and could not get up, his dreams shattered and his job lost to Ryan Fitzpatrick, his fleeting reign as successor to Mark Sanchez ended so unceremoniously.
Then, as fate would have it, Geno Smith was the one forced to end Eli Manning’s Ironman streak during his unfulfilling days as a Giant under Ben McAdoo.
But if you are armed with perseverance, if you never stop believing in yourself, the football gods just might decide to throw you a bone of mercy and give you some kind of opportunity, if not to resurrect your career, then at least to allow you to try to change the narrative.
So Pete Carroll and the Seahawks found themselves turning their lonely eyes to Geno Smith on Week 5 Thursday night against the Rams when Russell Wilson was diagnosed with a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger.
Sunday night against the Steelers, he tries to meet the moment and send the message that none other than Fitzpatrick himself has sent over and over and over again: If you refuse to stop chasing your dream, the journey doesn’t have to end so early for the journeyman.
Michael Vick was signed as Smith’s backup with the Jets in 2014. He was a Steeler at the start of his 13th and final season in 2015 when Enemkpali decked him reportedly over a $600 plane ticket debt.
“I feel like if I was in the locker room at that time, that would have never happened,” Vick told Serby Says. “I would have just tried to have Geno defuse it so it didn’t go that far.
“I won’t offend any of the guys who were in that locker room at the time who were veterans by saying it was poor leadership. I think Geno was the leader of that team, and you were never supposed to get into an altercation with any of your teammates. I just didn’t understand how that happened.”
It was a classic welcome-to-the-Jets moment for rookie coach Todd Bowles.
“I’ve talked to some of the guys on the team, I’m good friends with Willie Colon, and they didn’t know until after the fact,” Vick said. “IK would have never did that if I was still in that locker room. I had a lot of respect for IK, IK had a lot of respect for me. We practiced against each other a lot on the scout team.”
Vick wound up starting three games for the Jets.
“I helped push [Smith] to a point where he was ready come Week 1,” Vick said.
As ready as a second-year second-round pick can be following 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions as a rookie under the searing New York microscope.
“I think Geno was a great dude to be around,” Vick said. “He was a funny guy, I had fun with him. He understood the passing game. Physically, I thought he had the tools. But decision-making at the quarterback position, it can make or break you. I’m not saying Geno made bad decisions or didn’t make all the right decisions, it’s just when you’re a starting quarterback, your longevity depends on decision-making every day, from Monday through Sunday. That’s what determines if you are the long-term answer. I just thought Geno had everything it took to be a successful quarterback in the National Football League. That’s why he’s still around, too.”
Smith is 31 now, third year with the Seahawks, no longer the immature, impatient kid who was fined $12,000 for shouting an F-bomb at a Jets fan as he walked off the field after hearing “We want Vick” chants during a Week 4 defeat in 2014. He was Jets GM John Idzik’s quarterback. Sanchez was Rex Ryan’s quarterback. Smith’s tumultuous time in New York from 2013-16 as a Jet and in ’17 as a Giant was an invaluable education in Adversity 101.
“You know, being in New York was great for me, honestly,” Smith told the Seattle media. “You learn a lot when you come into the league and have to play right away. It’s not an easy business, it’s a tough business, and it’s a production business. You just learn that, you understand the game, and as you go on you grow and grow, but I’m very grateful for my time in New York.”
He is no longer that young man in a hurry out of West Virginia.
“All of this was a test of patience and having the ultimate faith,” Smith said.
There is irony in that current Jets GM Joe Douglas owns Seattle’s first-round 2022 pick, acquired in the Jamal Adams trade. Smith will have a minimum of four starts to impact the Jets draft.
“Just because he didn’t have the opportunity to play for however many years it was, he still played behind one of the greatest quarterbacks in the game of football at this point in time right now,” Tyler Lockett told reporters. “He’s been right there listening to Russell and seeing how Russell does things to where he can add certain things to the element of his game. He might be doing a lot of stuff that’s different to what he did before with other teams, but he understands the offense. He understands how to make it work.
“Sooner or later, that’s what people realize is that the mental part of the game is really the hardest part of the NFL. It’s not the physical, because everybody is great. It’s how can you be able to separate what the fans are saying or the media are saying or what the people on TV are saying or what you might be saying about yourself within your self-talk or what other people’s opinions are? That’s the hardest part in the game of football is so many people distract you from you, being the person that you can be to just go out there and really go play. Once you’ve got that part set in stone, you don’t worry about everything else.”
From 2018, when he was a Charger, through 2020, Smith attempted nine passes. He was 10-for-17 off the bench for 132 yards, one TD and one INT after Wilson was sidelined last week.
“If you walk into a room or you walk into the building and you’re just a fly on the wall, you wouldn’t think that Geno was not a starter, just by the way he prepares,” linebacker Bobby Wagner told reporters. “I think that’s why it’s so easy for us to rally behind him, because we know that he’s done the work.”
Smith has tried to be a sponge while backing up Manning, Philip Rivers and now Wilson.
“That’s three Hall of Famers and three of the best to ever play the position,” he said.
Carroll went on and on about how much respect the 2-3 Seahawks have for Smith.
“It’s not about me at all,” Smith said. “Obviously, it’s a great opportunity, but my mindset is focused on winning and doing what is best for the team.”
Vick chuckled when I asked him if New York might have been the wrong place for Smith to begin his NFL career.
“New York’s a tough place for anybody to start their career,” he said. “Ask Eli Manning, ask Phil Simms … Christian Hackenberg. It is what it is. It’s something that you can’t cry about.”
This isn’t the career Geno Smith could have imagined, but there’s no crying in football.
“This is a time for him to go win some games, man, and he deserves it for all the things that he’s been through,” Vick said. “All you want is a chance.
“This is a big moment for him, and I expect him to shine in this moment.”